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Madison Square Park, also known as Dragon Park, is located at the eastern edge of Chinatown between Madison and Jackson and 8th and 9th Streets. The park has both shifted names and location over the years. Initially called Caroline Park, it was situated one block to the east. Through the city’s eminent domain process, the parkland was given to BART Headquarters (the regional subway system) in 1965. In order to preserve the park’s presence, many houses and a church were destroyed so that a new Madison Square Park could grow nearby.

Most of the time when you walk by or through this park, it seems quite desolate. However, between 6 and 9 am, the park is an undulating sea of motion, filled with hundreds of people practicing variations of qigong, ti chi, or line dancing. The octogenarian qigong teacher volunteers his time every day, rain or shine, to lead this open class. After his stroke some 20 years ago, he began to practice qigong and felt his life transformed. He has since generously contributed this teaching to his community.

The park wasn’t always home to local tai chi groups. For the past 20 years they practiced in the nearby BART plaza (the once Madison Square Park), a flat and even surface. With the news that the BART headquarters would be torn down because it was seismically unsafe, a few practioners started a movement to renovate the park to accommodate the exercisers. "Our dream, not for us, but for Chinatown and Oakland, is that the focus of this park is tai chi," said Ed Loo, who wants to rename the park the Oakland Tai Chi Madison Park, in honor of the popularity of tai chi and as a tribute to Chinese residents.

In the spring of 2008, the neighborhood celebrated the re-opening of their transformed park. The community is creating an oral history project to preserve the memories of this area, which continues to be the site of major redevelopment and transition.

Downtown Oakland, CA


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